THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
A Ransom for Many
Can Jesus bring salvation out of human selfishness?
This is one of the questions that this morning’s Gospel text from Mark invites us into.
Can Jesus take human selfishness and end up with the salvation of the cross? And how do we participate in this?
The lesson this morning starts off with a bold request from James and John:
“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
To which, Jesus answered, “What is it you want me to do for you.”
“Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your
Teacher, Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your glory.
We only want to be as close to you as possible.
We only want to sit next to you in the Kingdom of Heaven, so that we can participate and apply our talents to the task of bringing forth the Kingdom for the whole world!
Surely, this is not too much to ask? We only want to make sure that we are with you on your big day…
In response, Jesus cautioned them:
“You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
One defining characteristic of Mark’s Gospel (and Mark’s Gospel in particular) is that the disciples are almost always the last to understand Jesus. It is always the stranger, the widow, the unclean one who sees Jesus for who He is and who understands Jesus in his mysterious teachings.
Mark’s disciples; sadly, just aren’t as quick to understand as those around them.
Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?
To the disciples, this must have sounded like a rite of initiation.
“Ah. Yes! Jesus is going to perform our request. He only wants to know if we are prepared!”
“Of course, Jesus! We can drink the cup you drink, we can be baptized with your baptism! You just tell us the details and we will be there!”
Indeed, to James and John, this all must have sounded like very good news:
Jesus is going to take us to his banquet table!
Jesus is going to take us to the river that we may be baptized with him!
It’s all happening! We’re moving up in the organization!
But not so fast!
Knowing the end of the story, as we do, we know that the matter is not as simple as that.
Yes, the office Jesus occupies is one of great glory and it would be a great honour to share it beside Him, but there is more to it than that.
There is not only a seat of glory, but also a seat of humiliation.
The cross – the thing that this whole story is moving toward – comes at a great cost. It is a seat of glory. But not because it elevates the Crucified One in comfort.
Jesus will be elevated on that cross – but elevated in agony and humiliation
Jesus indeed will be crowned a king upon that glorious seat – but crowned with a crown of thorns
Jesus will drink from the cup reserved for the King – but on just the evening before that, Jesus will pray the prayer of one frightened and disheartened by his destiny:
“Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me…”
“Remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”
Jesus is truly a King. The King above all Kings. And yet, His glory and his throne, his crown and his cup are not the things James and John think they are. This is why Jesus told those two disciples, whom he loved dearly,
“You do not know what you are asking”.
James and John, Sons of Zebedee; these may not be the seats that you want.
And yet, these are the seats you will sit upon. Though not in the way you think.
For Jesus continued:
“The cup that I drink you WILL drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you WILL be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
If we fast-forward to the end of Mark’s Gospel we read the following:
It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left…”
Those seats next to Jesus, those paradoxical seats of glory, next to the King were reserved for two bandits, it turns out.
Christ-the-King died in agony and humiliation and next to Him in the seats of Glory were two criminals, two nameless bandits, who died no less poorly.
And we call this the Good News.
This week I was at a conference of gathered Anglican and Presbyterian clergy in Toronto, learning about Evangelism.
Evangelism, regardless of whatever meaning has been attached to it through the history of the church, is the practice of telling the Good News to others; the practice of sharing our faith in Jesus with others in the hope that they will come to the foot of the cross with us.
Throughout my time in Toronto, both at this conference, and back at the hotel studying this morning’s Scripture lesson, I saw over and over one of the things that makes Evangelism such a difficult exercise:
The Good News of Jesus is not something that can be explained quickly.
It is very difficult for a Christian believer to explain in one conversation (or even a series of conversations) the paradoxical nature of Christ the King:
To explain how Jesus was cut low by the powers of sin and death
How Jesus foretold His own death and yet did not avoid it
To explain how Jesus bids us to follow Him: to take up our own cross, to drink from his cup, to be baptized with his baptism, to sacrifice ourselves and become servant of all with him.
To explain not only all of these things, but to adequately get across why Christians call any of this good news!
How is death good news?
How is self-sacrifice good news?
How is following Jesus to the agony of the cross Good News?
At the risk of upsetting 2,000 years of Christian tradition, I would like to suggest that perhaps the News is not all that “good,” that perhaps the word “good” is just too limiting for the fullness of God’s glory we are asking it to carry.
Maybe the News isn’t all that good, but it is beautiful.
There is indeed an abundance of “beauty” in this story. Even the gory details.
The cross is “beautiful,” not pretty, but beautiful
The cross is beautiful in the same way that a poem or painting of something painful is beautiful.
The cross is beautiful in the same way that the fullness of birth, life, suffering, and death is beautiful.
The cross is beautiful in the same way that life is beautiful. Not because it is “pretty” but because it is true.
When I first started to have my heart stirred for Jesus as a young man in my early twenties, I described what I found in that Presbyterian Church in Lethbridge as “true to life.”
The sermons were “true to life.”
They didn’t represent an unrealistically sweet and simple vision of life.
They weren’t about cotton candy and rainbows (at least, not usually).
They were about the Gospel, they were about the fullness of life.
The sermons that Rev. Jack gave were full-to-the-brim with life: they were about God and about humanity; about sin and about pain; about love and about loss.
As a young man, seeking God, I heard these stories with and through the people in the pews around me. These wonderful and kind people who told me about their experience of the good news. Their evangelism.
Some years after my initial conversion, I was at Seminary in Vancouver, having coffee with an international graduate student who lived at the Residence Hall that I was Chaplain of.
This young woman was exceptionally bright. She was well read. She was well studied. She was a very talented scientist.
She was all of these things and yet she had asked me to have coffee with her that day because she wanted to learn more about Jesus and the Bible.
Can you tell me about Jesus?
Can you tell me about the Bible?
Who is God?
What is heaven?
As the questions poured out like water from a fire hydrant, I tried my best to keep up and answer, but very quickly I found I was falling behind.
Finally, the words came:
“The thing about the Bible is…
…is that it is the best thing human beings have to talk about the experience of being a human being”
“The Bible gives us a common language of human experience.”
The fullness of human experience: of life and death, of God and sin, of joy and pain; it’s all there in those pages in-front of each of you.
The Bible tells us where we are and where God is and why even the most painful and confusing parts of our lives have a place. The answers are not always sweet. They are not always pretty. But they are very beautiful. Beautiful because they are true.
That’s the Good News. Or at least the most truthful version of the Good News that I was capable of witnessing to on that particular day, in that particular coffee shop in Vancouver.
The Good News is heartbreaking and heartwarming. It is comforting and disorientating, but it is true nevertheless.
The most beautiful thing of all about this Good News is that the deliverer of the Good News, Jesus of Nazareth, asks us to share the Good News we have found with others.
Returning to Mark and Jesus and to the Sons of Zebedee…
Mark tells us that after the ten other Disciples found out what James and John had asked of Jesus, they were angry, and they began to argue with them.
In response, Jesus told all twelve of them:
“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
In this way, Jesus spoke; truthfully and brilliantly, through the reality of His own Kingship…
He said: Now you know that the Gentiles have rulers who are tyrants over them…
But it is not so among you.
If it were anyone but Jesus, Jesus would have said: Now the Gentiles have rulers who are tyrants over them but you 12 have ME and you’re awfully lucky to have ME.
That might have been just as true, but it’s not Jesus’ way.
No, Jesus said “But it is not so among you.”
Jesus displayed the kind of leadership that is not present anywhere else in the world but in the Kingdom of God.
You 10 are angry at these two who asked boldly to be next to me in glory. I get it.
That’s not the kind of community we have. That’s not the kind of King I am.
I am the kind of King who reminds you that tyranny and pride; greed and malice are not OUR way.
Whoever wishes to become great must be servant of all.
Whoever wishes to be first must be slave of all.
And I will show you how. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.
James and John may not have got what they asked for.
James and John may not have been the ones who were chosen to sit in glory at the right and left of the King.
But they received something much more beautiful than that.
WE received something much more beautiful than that.
WE have received a life and a story that reflects the beauty and truth of Christ.
WE have each received lives that are filled to the brim with the stuff-of-life; of joy and pain, of love and loss.
WE have been saved on the cross through the agony and humanity of God-in-Christ so that WE can live our lives free from the killing power of sin.
WE have been given a place in the family of God, in the company of Christ’s leadership so that we can live our lives as a reflection of this love; living freely to serve and to be slave of all.
WE have been equipped with a life and a story and a saviour that we can share with everyone around us so that those who know the sting of death; those who know the numbing pain of depression; those who know addiction and poverty and abandonment and hunger and all of the painful things of this world can know that it all has a place in this story we share together.
We may not be able to ask Christ if we can sit in Glory at his right and left.
But we have something so much better. We have the CALL that Christ places in our lives to live in Him, to live as His hands and feet in the world so that others will know how much they are already loved!
We have our own call and our own voice and our own cross.
But more than that WE have Christ our Servant King.
And there is nothing more beautiful than that. Amen.